First, it’s still amazing to me that Nate Dogg didn’t have a bigger solo career. I blame at least part of that on Death Row’s internal problems that prevented his debut album from dropping back in the mid-’90s where it likely have murdered the charts (imagine it dropping after Doggystyle. Game over).
That’s not to say he didn’t have a career any artist would envy. I can’t think of a single soul vocalist who laid down a more distinctive presence in hip-hop than Nate. If Mary J. Blige was the queen of hip-hop soul, that’d have to make Nate emperor. It’s not only that his voice was so memorable but more importantly, it added such a layer that, were you to take him off the song, the tune simply wouldn’t be the same.
I never thought of him as the most technically proficient or even stylish singer but Nate Dogg’s voice guaranteed a specific feel, at once smooth and reassuring yet with more than a hint of menace, a thug dressed in chinchilla. Obviously, that impression is at least partially influenced by who Nate kept company with – had he been part of the Bad Boy family instead of Death Row, maybe we’d think of him differently. But for all those reasons, his was as much about the literal sound of G-funk as Dre’s production and Snoop’s drawl.
He died far too young but his legacy is enough for several lifetimes over. Imagine what hip-hop over the course of his career would have sounded like without him. You can’t, can you?
It’s hard to pick a favorite but the one song that comes to mind is 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” The fit between Nate’s hook and the song’s production was just perfect (so much so than you can overlook how corny 50’s lines are here).